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When You Desperately Need a Prayer

The Jesus prayer.

When you desperately need a prayer
Credit: Getty Images
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Ever wonder what to pray? Ever find yourself in a situation where you desperately need prayer and you can’t find the words?

Of course God hears all our prayers and even supplies the words when we have none. But there’s one prayer I always keep handy and use whenever I can. And it comes right out of the Bible.

Remember the story Jesus told of the two people who went to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector?

The Pharisee said a prayer full of self-righteousness and self-justification: “God, I thank you that I’m not a sinner like everyone else or even like that tax collector over there.” He goes on to enumerate all the good things he’s done: he fasts twice a week, gives tithes.

The tax collector, on the other hand, stands far off, is not even able to lift his eyes to heaven. He beats his breast and says, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

This is the source for the Jesus Prayer: “Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Only eight words, but they’re powerful and they’ll help you no matter how you’re struggling.

Why do they work? Because they put you back in a right relationship with God and a right relationship with the world. You’re not bragging and boasting like that vain Pharisee. You’re not even sure what you want. You simply want to be heard. You need Jesus.

I’ve uttered this prayer hundreds of times, maybe millions of times. I don’t keep count. It’s that prayer that says, “Get me back on track, God. Help me find my way again. Be with me now.”

About the word “mercy.” It’s not a very popular concept anymore. “Have mercy on me.” Can you ever imagine saying that in everyday life? It makes us uncomfortable because it presumes a greater power over us.   

But that’s exactly what God is, a higher power, as they say in 12-step programs.  That’s what we’re calling on when we say the Jesus Prayer.

That other word “sinner” also makes some people uncomfortable. It brings them visions of a faith that motivates people only through fear and not through love.

Try thinking of it this way. You can’t receive anything if your hands are open or if your heart is closed. Calling myself a sinner is my way of saying, “My hands are open. I need you, God. Enter my heart. “

There are times–probably too many of them–when I act like that arrogant Pharisee. But then I get a bit lost and good sense is shaken back into me. Time for the age-old Jesus Prayer

“Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Try it.

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